Interview With Historian Stephen Cohen on Ukraine

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Interview with historian Stephen Cohen, by Patrick L. Smith, published in Salon.com, April 17, 2015

Introduction by Patrick L. Smith: It is one thing to comment in a column as the Ukrainian crisis grinds on and Washington—senselessly, with no idea of what will come next—destroys relations with Moscow. It is quite another, as a long exchange with Stephen F. Cohen makes clear, to watch as an honorable career’s worth of scholarly truths are set aside in favor of unlawful subterfuge, a war fever not much short of Hearst’s and what Cohen ranks among the most extravagant expansion of a sphere of influence—NATO’s—in history.

Cohen is a distinguished Russianist by any measure. While professing at Princeton and New York University, he has written of the revolutionary years (“Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution,” 1973), the Soviet era (“Rethinking the Soviet Experience,” 1985) and, contentiously but movingly and always with a steady eye, the post-Soviet decades (“Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia, 2000; “Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives,” 2009). “The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin” (2010) is a singularly humane work, using scholarly method to relate the stories of the former prisoners who walk as ghosts in post-Soviet Russia. “I never actually lost the uneasy feeling of having left work unfinished and obligations unfulfilled,” Cohen explains in the opening chapter, “even though fewer and fewer of the victims I knew were still alive.”

If I had to describe the force and value of Cohen’s work in a single sentence, it would be this: It is a relentless insistence that we must bring history to bear upon what we see. One would think this an admirable project, but it has landed Cohen in the mother of all intellectual disputes since the U.S.-supported coup in Kiev last year. To say he is now “blackballed” or “blacklisted”—terms Cohen does not like—is too much. Let us leave it that a place may await him among America’s many prophets without honor among their own.

It is hardly surprising that the Ministry of Forgetting, otherwise known as the State Department, would eschew Cohen’s perspective on Ukraine and the relationship with Russia: He brings far too much by way of causality and responsibility to the case. But when scholarly colleagues attack him as “Putin’s apologist”, one grows queasy at the prospect of a return to the McCarthyist period. By now, obedient ideologues in the academy have turned debate into freak show.

Cohen, who is 76, altogether game and remembers it all, does not think we are back in the 1950s just yet. But he is now enmeshed in a fight with the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, which last autumn rejected a $400,000 grant Cohen proposed with his wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel, because the fellowships to be funded would bear Cohen’s name. Believe it, readers, this is us in the early 21st century.

The interview that follows took place in Cohen’s Manhattan apartment some weeks after the cease-fire agreement known as Minsk II was signed in mid-February, 2015. It sprawled over several absorbing hours. As I worked with the transcript, it became clear that Cohen had given me a valuable document, one making available to readers a concise, accessible, historically informed accounting of “where we are today,” as Cohen put it, in Ukraine and in the U.S.-Russia relationship.

Salon will run it in two parts. This is an edited transcript of the first. Part two follows next week.

What is your judgment of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine? In the current situation, the need is for good history and clear language. In a historical perspective, do you consider Russia justified?

Well, I can’t think otherwise. I began warning of such a crisis more than 20 years ago, back in the ’90s. I’ve been saying since February of last year [when Viktor Yanukovich was ousted in Kiev] that the 1990s is when everything went wrong between Russia and the United States and Europe. So you need at least that much history, 25 years. But, of course, it begins even earlier.

As I’ve said for more than a year, we’re in a new Cold War. We’ve been in one, indeed, for more than a decade. My view [for some time] was that the United States either had not ended the previous Cold War, though Moscow had, or had renewed it in Washington. The Russians simply hadn’t engaged it until recently because it wasn’t affecting them so directly.

What’s happened in Ukraine clearly has plunged us not only into a new or renewed—let historians decide that—Cold War, but one that is probably going to be more dangerous than the preceding one for two or three reasons. The epicenter is not in Berlin this time but in Ukraine, on Russia’s borders, within its own civilization: That’s dangerous. Over the 40-year history of the old Cold War, rules of behavior and recognition of red lines, in addition to the red hotline, were worked out. Now there are no rules. We see this every day—no rules on either side.

What galls me the most, there’s no significant opposition in the United States to this new Cold War, whereas in the past there was always an opposition. Even in the White House you could find a presidential aide who had a different opinion, certainly in the State Department, certainly in the Congress. The media were open—the New York Times, the Washington Post—to debate. They no longer are. It’s one hand clapping in our major newspapers and in our broadcast networks. So that’s where we are.

The Ukraine crisis in historical perspective. Very dangerous ground. You know this better than anyone, I’d have thought. 

This is where I get attacked and assailed. It’s an historical judgment. The [crisis now] grew out of Clinton’s policies, what I call a “winner take all” American policy toward what was thought to be—but this isn’t true—a defeated post-Cold War Russia, leading people in the ’90s to think of Russia as in some ways analogous to Germany and Japan after World War II: Russia would decide its internal policies to some extent, and it would be allowed to resume its role as a state in international affairs—but as a junior partner pursuing new American national interests.

That was the pursuit that Clinton and Strobe Talbott, who’s now very upset about the failure of his policy, in the Yeltsin era. That’s what they wanted, and thought they were getting, from Boris Yeltsin. You can read Talbott’s memoir, “The Russia Hand,” and know that all the official talk about eternal friendship and partnership was malarkey. Now it’s all gone sour, predictably and for various reasons, and has led us to this situation.

The problem is that by taking the view, as the American media and political establishment do, that this crisis is entirely the fault of “Putin’s aggression,” there’s no rethinking of American policy over the last 20 years. I have yet to see a single influential person say, “Hey, maybe we did something wrong, maybe we ought to rethink something.” That’s a recipe for more of the same, of course, and more of the same could mean war with Russia….

Let me give you one example. It’s the hardest thing for the American foreign policy elite and the media elite to cope with.

Our position is that nobody is entitled to a sphere of influence in the 21st century. Russia wants a sphere of influence in the sense that it doesn’t want American military bases in Ukraine or in the Baltics or in Georgia. But what is the expansion of NATO other than the expansion of the American zone or sphere of influence? It’s not just military. It’s financial, it’s economic, it’s cultural, it’s intermarriage—soldiers, infrastructure. It’s probably the most dramatic expansion of a great sphere of influence in such a short time and in peacetime in the history of the world.

So you have Vice President Biden constantly saying, “Russia wants a sphere of influence and we won’t allow it.” Well, we are shoving our sphere of influence down Russia’s throat, on the assumption that it won’t push back. Obviously, the discussion might well begin: “Is Russia entitled to a zone or sphere in its neighborhood free of foreign military bases?” Just that, nothing more. If the answer is yes, NATO expansion should’ve ended in Eastern Germany, as the Russians were promised. But we’ve crept closer and closer. Ukraine is about NATO-expansion-no-matter-what. Washington can go on about democracy and sovereignty and all the rest, but it’s about that. And we can’t re-open this question…. The hypocrisy, or the inability to connect the dots in America, is astonishing.

The nature of the Kiev regime. Again, there’s a lot of fog. So there are two parts to this question. The coup matter and the relationship of the Yatsenyuk government to the State Department. We now have a finance minister in Kiev who’s an American citizen, addressing the Council on Foreign Relations here as we speak. And then the relationship of the Kiev regime with the ultra-right.

It’s a central question. I addressed it in a Nation piece last year called ‘Distorting Russia‘. One point was that the apologists in the media for the Kiev government as it came to power after Feb. 21, 2014 and for the Maidan demonstrations as they turned violent, ignored the role of a small but significant contingent of ultra-nationalists who looked, smelled and sounded like neo-fascists. And for this I was seriously attacked, including by Timothy Snyder at Yale, who is a great fan of Kiev, in the New Republic. I have no idea where he is coming from, or how any professor could make the allegations he did. But the argument was that this neo-fascist theme was Putin’s, that what I was saying was an apology for Putin and that the real fascists were in Russia, not in Ukraine.

Maybe there are fascists in Russia, but we’re not backing the Russian government or Russian fascists. The question is, and it’s extremely important, “Is there a neo-fascist movement in Ukraine that, regardless of its electoral success, which has not been great, is influencing affairs politically or militarily, and is this something we should be worried about?”

The answer is 100 percent yes. But admitting this in the United States has gotten a 100 percent no until recently, when, finally, a few newspapers began to cite Kiev’s battalions with swastikas on their helmets and tanks. So you’ve gotten a little more coverage. Foreign journalists, leaving aside Russians, have covered this neo-fascist phenomenon, which is not surprising. It grows out of Ukraine’s history. It should be a really important political question for Western policy makers, and I think it is now for the Germans. German intelligence is probably better than American intelligence when it comes to Ukraine—more candid in what it tells the top leadership. Merkel’s clearly worried about this.

It’s another example of something you can’t discuss in the mainstream media or elsewhere in the American establishment. When you read the testimony of [Assistant Secretary of State] Nuland, this is never mentioned. But what could be more important than the resurgence of a fascist movement on the European continent? I’m not talking about these sappy fascists who run around the streets in Western Europe. I’m talking about guys with a lot of weapons, guys who have done dastardly things and who have killed people. Does that warrant discussion? Well, people said, if they exist they’re a tiny minority. My clichéd answer is, “Of course, so was Hitler and so was Lenin at one time.” You pay attention and you think about it if you learn anything from history….

We say we’re doing everything we’re doing in Ukraine and against Russia, including running the risk of war, for a democratic Ukraine, by which we mean Ukraine under the rule of Kiev. Reasonably, we would ask to what extent Kiev is actually democratic. But correspondents of the Times and the Washington Post regularly file from Kiev and basically re-write whatever the Kiev authorities say while rarely, if ever, asking about democracy in Kiev-governed Ukraine.

Rewriting handouts. Is that actually so?

Until recently it was so….  I haven’t made this a study, and one could be done in a week by a sophisticated journalist or scholar who knew how to ask questions and had access to information. And I would be willing to wager that it would show that there’s less democracy, as reasonably understood, in those areas of Ukraine governed by Kiev today than there was before Yanukovych was overthrown. Now that’s a hypothesis, but I think it’s a hypothesis the [New York] Times and the [Washington] Post should be exploring.

I take Kiev’s characterization of its war in the eastern sections as an “anti-terrorist campaign” to be one of the most preposterous labels out there right now.

But, then, why did Washington say OK to it? Washington has a say in this. Without Washington, Kiev would be in bankruptcy court and have no military at all. Why didn’t Washington say, “Don’t call it anti-terrorist?” Because if you call it “anti-terrorism” you can never have negotiations because you don’t negotiate with terrorists, you just kill them, a murderous organization with murderous intent.

By saying that this is not a civil war, it’s just Russian aggression—this omits the human dimension of the entire war, and also the agency of the people who are actually fighting in the east—the hairdressers, the taxi drivers, the former newspaper reporters, the school teachers, the garbage men, the electricians, who are probably 90 percent of those fighting. There are Russians there, from Russia. But Ukraine’s army has proved incapable of defeating or even holding off what began as a fairly ragtag, quasi-partisan, ill-equipped, untrained force.

The horror of this has been Kiev’s use of its artillery, mortars and even its airplanes, until recently, to bombard large residential cities, not only Donetsk and Luhansk, but other cities. These are cities of 500,000, I imagine, or 2 million to 3 million. This is against the law. These are war crimes, unless we assume the rebels were bombing their mothers and grandmothers and fathers and sisters. This was Kiev, backed by the United States. So the United States has been deeply complicit in the destruction of these eastern cities and peoples. When Nuland tells Congress there are 5,000 to 6,000 dead, that’s the U.N. number. That’s just a count of bodies they found in the morgues. Lots of bodies are never found. German intelligence says 50,000.

Ever since the Clinton administration, we’ve bleated on about the right to protect people who are victims of humanitarian crises. You’ve got a massive humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine. You’ve got one million people or more who have fled to Russia—this is according to the U.N.—another half a million having fled elsewhere in Ukraine. I don’t notice the United States organizing any big humanitarian effort. Where is Samantha Power, the architect of “right to protect”? We have shut our eyes to a humanitarian crisis in which we are deeply complicit. This is what’s shameful, whether you like or don’t like Putin. It’s got nothing to do with Putin. It has to do with the nature of American policy and the nature of Washington—and the nature of the American people, if they tolerate this.

You’ve written about the second Minsk accord as the only hope we’ve got left. Tell me briefly your take on Minsk II and whether there’s a chance it will hold.

The second Minsk Accord [signed on Feb. 11/12, 2015] has a lot of moving parts. The primary part is the cease-fire and the withdrawal by both sides of heavy artillery. It would appear that this has been significantly accomplished, but the cease-fire is very unstable. The political parts are supposed to come now. Kiev is supposed to pass certain constitutional reforms, giving a certain autonomy to the eastern regions. The eastern regions are supposed to hold new elections that in some way comply with Ukrainian law. If all that happens by December, then the Ukrainian-Russian border will be turned over to the Kiev authorities along with some European monitors. The political parts are going to be the hardest because there is no political support for this in Kiev.

[President] Poroshenko went to Minsk because he had no choice: Merkel told him he had to sign Minsk II. But Kiev is ultra-nationalist. They want no concessions to the east or to Russia. Getting Minsk II through parliament in Kiev will be very difficult. But the main fact for now is that Minsk II is the last, best choice to avoid a wider war that might well cause a direct war with Russia. [Since this interview the Kiev parliament has passed legislation either contradicting or negating the Minsk II terms.]

Minsk II was Merkel’s initiative with President Hollande of France, and why, at the last minute, she suddenly realized that the situation was different than she thought—desperate—I don’t know. And remember, this is a woman with enormous executive responsibilities for the economic crisis of the European Union and Greece. The enemies of Minsk II…

I think the main enemy is Washington.

That’s right. I wouldn’t call them the enemy, but we can’t be children about this. Washington controls the IMF. Washington controls NATO. NATO and the IMF are the two agencies that can make war happen on a broader basis in Ukraine and in regard to Russia, or stop it. Whoever is the decider in Washington, if it’s Obama, if it’s somebody else, now has to make the decision.

All the enemies of Minsk II speak freely and are quoted in the papers and on the networks as rational people. And yet there’s not one dissenting voice from the establishment. Outwardly, it appears to be a very uneven struggle. One hopes that somewhere in dark corridors and dimly-lit rooms in Washington, serious conversations are taking place, but I don’t think so. [On March 23, 48 members of Congress did vote against sending weapons to Kiev, a point Cohen commended in an email note.]

Our post-Soviet politics after 1991, it turns out to be war by other means. The Cold War never ended, in my view. The tactics changed, perhaps the strategy did, too, but there was very little by way of even a pause.

It’s complicated. The main problem today of getting the American political class to think freshly is Putin. They use Putin as the excuse to do whatever they want and not rethink anything. But Putin came much later.

The historical facts are not convenient to the triumphalist narrative, which says that we defeated the Soviet Union and thereby ended the Cold War, and therefore and therefore. According to Gorbachev, Reagan and Bush, the Cold War ended either in 1988 or 1990. When Reagan left the White House—I think he wrote in his diary in January 1989, “We have ended the Cold War”—so he thought he had ended it with Gorbachev. I was in Moscow when he walked across Red Square in that heat, I think it was July 1988, and somebody shouted to him “President Reagan, is this still the Evil Empire?” And he, in that affable way, said “Oh, no, that was then… everything’s changed.”

The Cold War was a structural phenomenon. Just because the president says its over doesn’t mean it’s over, but then there was Malta in December 1989, when [George H.W.] Bush and Gorbachev said the Cold War was over, and that continued all through the reunification of Germany. Between ’88 and ’90 we were told repeatedly by the world’s leaders that it was over. Jack Matlock, Reagan’s ambassador to Russia, has written very well about this, and because he was there as a personal testimony, of how this truly was. So the conflation of the end of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War is an historical mistake.

Bush then continued to maintain the official line that he had pursued with Gorbachev that there were no losers at the end of the Cold War, everybody had won. Bush maintained that position until the polls showed he was running behind Clinton in his reelection campaign. And then he declared in 1992 that we, and he in particular, had won the Cold War. I saw Gorbachev shortly thereafter. My wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and I had been friends with him for several years. He was deeply, deeply hurt, with a sense of betrayal. He’s forgiven Bush, being a forgiving man.

But at that moment, ’91 and ’92… well, words are words, but as Russians say, words are also deeds. By announcing that we had won the Cold War, Bush set the stage for the Clinton administration’s decision to act on an American victory, including the expansion of NATO.

This history brings us to where we are today.

What has changed in U.S. policy toward Russia between 1991 and now, and what hasn’t?

I think the history that we know is what I just told you. Behind the scenes, there were clearly discussions going on throughout the ’90s, and there were different groups. Big historical decisions, whether we talk about the war in Vietnam, or, a subject that interests me, why slavery and segregation lasted so long in the American South, where I grew up, can never be explained by one factor. Almost always they’re multi-factored. But you got, in the 1990s, some people who genuinely believed that this was the moment for an enduring post-Cold War, American-Russian, full-scale strategic partnership and friendship between equals. There were these Romantics, so to speak.

On this side of the ocean?

I think there were people who believed in this. Just like there are people who really believe in democracy promotion as a virtuous profession—some of my students have gone into it. They believe in it: It’s a good thing. Why not help good countries achieve democracy? The dark side of democracy promotion for them is either not visible or not in their calculation. People are diverse. I don’t judge them harshly for their beliefs.

There were others who were saying Russia will rise again, and we have to make sure that never happens. To do that, we need to strip Russia of Ukraine, in particular. Brzezinski was writing that. At some point during this time he wrote that Russia with Ukraine is a great imperial power, without Ukraine it’s a normal country. But there were people in Washington, the same people I heard in private discussions, saying that Russia’s down and we’re going to keep it down. They were feeding opinion into the Clinton administration, and that clearly helped lead to the NATO expansion.

They use the excuse that everybody wants to join NATO. How can we deny them the right? It’s very simple. People say every country that qualifies has a right to join NATO. No, they do not. NATO is not a junior Chamber of Commerce. It’s not a non-selective fraternity or sorority. It’s a security organization, and the only criterion for membership should be, “Does a nation enhance the security of the other member countries?” The Ukrainian crisis proves beyond any doubt, being the worst international crisis of our time, that the indiscriminate expansion of NATO has worsened our international security. That’s the end of that story. I don’t know what they think NATO is. Is it like AARP membership and you get discounts in the form of U.S. defense funds? It’s crazy, this argument.

But then you got these guys who are either Russophobes or eternal Cold Warriors or deep strategic thinkers. You remember when [Paul] Wolfowitz wrote this article saying Russia had to be stripped of any possibility ever to be a great power again? These people were all talking like…

It goes back to your comparison with Japan in ’45.

The question is why Clinton bought into this. That would then take you to Strobe Talbott. Strobe was a disciple of Isaiah Berlin, who taught that if you want to understand Russia, you have to understand the history, the culture and the civilization. And certainly if you took that view, you never would have done, as George Kennan said in 1996 or 1997, you never would have expanded NATO. I knew George during my 30 years at Princeton. George’s social attitudes were deeply alarming, but about Russia he had a very important idea. Russia marches to its own drummer, let it, don’t try to intervene or you’ll make things worse. Be patient, understand Russian history, the forces in Russia. That was Isaiah Berlin’s position. Once, that was Strobe’s position. Look at Strobe Talbott today: We have to send in weapons and overthrow Putin and turn Russia around. Now it’s all outside agency.

How did this guy go from A to B?

Well, they say power corrupts, or at least changes people. He had been Clinton’s roommate at Oxford, and he ended up in the White House as a Russia aide, very smart guy. I think Russia disappointed him. One phenomenon among Russia-watchers is that you create an artifice, and that’s your Russia. And when it disappoints you, you never forgive Russia. Check out Fred Hiatt at the Washington Post. Fred was writing from Moscow during the ’90s that democracy was going to be great. So did most the guys who are now were still in editorial positions. Russia let them down. They can’t forgive Russia anymore than they can the ex-wife who cheated on them. They can’t think anew. It’s a phenomenon, probably not only American, but it’s particularly American. You cannot reopen any discussion with these people who bought into Yeltsin’s Russia in the 1990s and were certain that though the road was rocky, as they liked to say… “Failed Crusade” is about this. They can’t get over it.

Part of it also had to do with Yeltsin. He was so desperate, not only for American affirmation but for American affection. He was so insecure, as his health declined and he became more and more the captive of the oligarchs, that he wanted to mean as much to Washington as Gorbachev had. He was getting close to virtually giving Washington anything, saying anything, until the Serbian war. Then it dawned on him that Washington had a certain agenda, and the expansion of NATO [was part of it], but by then it was too late, he was a spent force.

Later, when Dmitri Medvedev was president [2008-12], I think, he told a group of people that Yeltsin hadn’t actually won the election, that Gennadi Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party, had. So assuming that Medvedev wasn’t lying and assuming he was in a position to know, all this talk of American support for democracy, when it comes to Russia, at least, is, shall we say, complex.

Let’s go to Putin. What is your view here? What is he trying to accomplish?

It’s impossible to answer briefly or simply. This is a separate university course, this is a book, this is for somebody with a much bigger brain that I have. This really is for historians to judge.

I wrote an article in, I think, 2012 called the “The Demonization of Putin,” arguing that there is very little basis for many of the allegations made against Putin, and that the net result was to make rational analysis in Washington on Russian affairs at home and abroad impossible, because it was all filtered through this demonization. If we didn’t stop, I argued, it was only going to get worse to the point where we would become like heroin addicts at fix time, unable to think about anything except our obsession with Putin. We couldn’t think about other issues. This has now happened fully. The article was turned down by the New York Times, and an editor I knew at Reuters published it on Reuters.com.

The history of how this came about [begins] when Putin came to power, promoted by Yeltsin and the people around Yeltsin, who were all connected in Washington. These people in Moscow included Anatoly Chubais, who had overseen the privatizations, had relations with the IMF and had fostered a lot of the corruption. He came to United States to assure us that Putin was a democrat, even though he had been at the KGB.

When he came to power, both the Times and the Post wrote that Putin was a democrat and, better yet, he was sober, unlike Yeltsin. How we got from 2000 to now, when he’s Hitler, Saddam, Stalin, Gaddafi, everybody that we have to get rid of, whom we know killed Boris Nemtsov because from the bridge where Nemtsov was killed [on February 27] you can see the Kremlin…. Well, remember, Sarah Palin could see Russia from Alaska! It’s preposterous. But the demonization of Putin has become an institution in America. It is literally a political institution that prevents the kind of discussion that you and I are having.

Kissinger had the same thought. He wrote, last year, I think, “The demonization of Putin is not a policy. It’s an alibi for not having a policy.” That’s half correct. It’s much worse now, because they did have a policy. I think the “policy” growing in some minds was how to get rid of Putin. The question is, “Do they have the capacity to make decisions?” I didn’t think so, but now I’m not so sure, because in a lot of what comes out of Washington, including the State Department, the implication is that Putin has to go.

I asked a question rhetorically several years ago of these regime changers: Have you thought about what would happen in Russia in the event of regime change? If what you say is true, if Putin is the pivot of the whole system, you remove Putin the whole system collapses. Russia has every known weapon of mass destruction in vast quantities. What would be the consequence of that conceit on your part—that we’re going to get rid of Putin—for the rest of the world?

So this Putin phenomenon has to be explained. How did he go from a democrat for sure, now to maybe the worst Russian leader since Ivan the Terrible. How do you explain it? Does that tell us more about Putin or more about us?

I think his sin is an unacceptable take on, broad-brush terms, Eastern ethos vs. Western ethos, and on narrower terms a rejection of a neoliberal economic regime in the Washington consensus style. Although he’s got a lot to answer for, I think, in this respect, he’s not an evangelist for what he’s doing. What does he face domestically? What’s he trying to do?

Let me tell you just briefly. When I ask Russians, they think the answer is American presidential envy. We’ve had a lot of unsuccessful presidents lately.  Clinton left basically in disgrace, Bush left not beloved for the war that he had got us into and lied about, Obama is before our eyes a shrinking, failing president. And here’s Putin, now in his 15th year of growing stature inside Russia.

And by the way, until recently the preeminent European statesman of his time, no doubt of this. In the 21st century, only Merkel can stand anywhere near him as a European statesman, whether you like what a statesman does or not. This, of course, changes everything. Not to take the famous cop-out, but let history judge. X number of years from now, when we’ve joined the majority, as Lenin used to say, historians will undoubtedly look back and do the pluses and minuses, and it’s going to be a very close call.

For my short-term take on Putin, he was put in power to save the Yeltsin family from corruption charges, and the first decree he signed upon becoming acting president was to exempt the Yeltsin family from future prosecution. He has honored that, by the way. One of the beefs against Putin in Russia is that he’s honorable to his friends and appointees to an extreme; he can’t bring himself to fire anybody. He’s got this KGB code of honor. I kind of like it. I’d rather that than people stab you in your back….

I operate under the assumption that no matter how or why people come to power, when in power they begin to ponder what their mission is, what history asks of them. For Putin it was quite clear: The Russian state had collapsed twice in the 20th century. Stop and think what that means. It had collapsed in the 1917 Revolution and the Soviet Union didn’t collapse in 1991— it was plucked apart— but then the state collapsed and the result was what Russians call smuta, a time of troubles. It means misery; it means foreign invasion; it means civil war; it means that people fall into poverty. This is the Russia that Putin inherited. Remember, when he came to power in 2000, Russia was on the verge of collapsing for a third time as a result of Yeltsin’s policies. The governors were corrupt, were not obeying the law, were not paying taxes, were running criminal fiefdoms in scores of regions. Russia was highly vulnerable, NATO was expanding, Russia had no influence in world affairs.

Putin comes to power and perceives that his first mission has to be to stop the collapse of the Russian state— which he calls the vertical, because Russia has always been governed from the top down, which has made it ungovernable because it’s so big— and, most of all, to make sure it never, ever, ever happens again. In Russian history, the worst thing that can happen to Russia is smuta, when the state collapses. Stop and think: Between 1917 and 1991, it happened twice in the largest territorial country in the world. Is there any precedent for that in history? How a leader could come to power and not see that.


Note: This is the first piece of the conversation.

Patrick Smith is the author of “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century.” He was the International Herald Tribune’s bureau chief in Hong Kong and then Tokyo from 1985 to 1992. During this time he also wrote “Letter from Tokyo” for the New Yorker. He is the author of four previous books and has contributed frequently to the New York Times, the Nation, the Washington Quarterly, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter, @thefloutist. More Patrick L. Smith.

Source: New Cold War

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Because this article states so many things that might be likely to contradict what most people in Western countries have been led to believe, readers here are especially strongly encouraged to click onto any allegation which seems at all questionable, in order to get to the sources behind any given questionable allegation. And wherever a clicked-onto source turns out to be another article, one is encouraged similarly to do the same there, so that the reader will be able, in this way, to probe down to the ultimate sources, which are the sources upon which this article is finally based. After ...
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United States Imperialism Continues War in Afghanistan and the Destabilization of Africa
In just one week the United States government will commemorate its 16th anniversary in the bombing and occupation of Afghanistan. This war did not really begin in 2001 resulting from the attacks on September 11 where planes were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon headquartered right outside of Washington, D.C. U.S. involvement in the destabilization of Afghanistan goes back to the late 1970s when the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDP) led a socialist-oriented administration which advanced the cause of working people and farmers as well as providing fundamental civil rights to women. ...
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How Many People have been Killed in US Wars?
How many people have been killed in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Somalia? On Nov. 18, a UN press briefing on the war in Yemen declared authoritatively that it had so far killed 5,700 people, including 830 women and children. But how precise are these figures, what are they based on, and what relation are they likely to bear to the true numbers of people killed? Throughout the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, the media has cited UN updates comparing numbers of Afghans killed by “coalition forces” and the “Taliban.” Following the U.S. escalation of the war in 2009 and 2010, a report by McClatchy in ...
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Facts of the Korean War: UN Security Council, Instrument of US led Wars, Blatantly Biased Against North Korea
Recapitulation of the Facts of the Korean WarNovember 7, 1950:  “Just when there was a lull in the fighting and it looked as if peace were possible, MacArthur staged a gigantic and murderous raid directly across from the Chinese frontier, destroying most of a city in an area where bombings had been forbidden to prevent border violations.” “There were reports,” The New York Times said October 15, that General MacArthur had ordered the first bombings of North Korean cities without authorization from Washington.” “General Stratemeyer, commander of the Far East Air Forces described the attack:  ‘when fighter planes swept the ...
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Kosovo: Honoring Nazis and the SS
UN negotiator on Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari wanted to honor and commemorate Finnish Nazi SS troops in 1999 when he was the President of Finland. He wanted to have the Finnish taxpayers and the Finnish government fund and finance the construction of a plaque in the Ukraine to commemorate the deaths of Finnish Nazi SS troops killed during Operation Barbarossa. Ahtisaari is not, alone, however, in seeking to honor and celebrate the legacy of Nazis and the SS. Kosovo: German recruitment of Albanians for the SS Nazi Skanderbeg Division Kosovo Albanians have similarly honored and commemorated the legacy of Nazis and the SS. ...
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Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon on Kosovo in March 1999
Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection & Pinterest. Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement! Donate to Support Us We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.
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Slobodan Milosevic: The Killing of an Innocent Man
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague quietly acknowledged the innocence of former president of Serbia and Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic. Ten years after the very suspicious death of the Serbian leader in a Dutch prison, the 1,300th page of the 2,000-page document on the case of Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, acknowledged that Milosevic had not committed crimes against humanity, nor had he organized any mass killings or deportations of Croats and Bosnians. In other words, it was an innocent man who died in a UN prison. French journalist Dimitri De Koshko was working in Yugoslavia ...
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Did U.S. and Allies Commit War Crime by Bombing Syria on April 14th?
INTRODUCTION Bombardment (or other military invasion) of a country that has not invaded nor threatened to invade the attacking country(s) is “aggression” under international law, and is the chief crime that the Nazis were hanged for at Nuremberg after World War II. The U.S. and its allies have routinely committed aggression, in places such as Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. A particular instance of it, to be discussed here, could be especially prosecutable, because the alleged ‘cause’ for the invasion could turn out to have been a provable lie, an intentional fabrication which had been concocted by the perpetrators so as to ...
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Trump’s Win wasn’t Ideological?
CNN explained well “5 surprising lessons from Trump’s astonishing win”, and the historic crushing failure of traditional Presidential-year American politics, but it really boils down to one simple fact: In the battleground states, where most of the advertising dollars and get-out-the-vote money was being spent, the Trump organization made use of the Republican-Party organization in those portions of the campaign-operation that benefited from those established contacts and its tried-and-tested methods and techniques, but not in the portions of the campaign-operation that needed to be improved and to function better than in all prior U.S. Presidential elections. The simple fact is that ...
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The Shortened List of the Serb Christian Orthodox Shrines of Kosovo-Metochia (13th-20th centuries)
This list of shrines is based on a study by Milan Ivanovic, Crkveni spomenici XIII-XX veka (Church Monuments from 13th to 20th century) from Zaduzbine Kosova (The Foundations of Kosovo), Prizren-Belgrade 1987, and other recent publications. Dragan Jovanovic, researcher, compiled the major part of this list. A AJKOBILA (in the Middle Age Prozdrikobila, Pristina): demolished church in the vicinity of the present-day mosque. AJNOVCE (in the Middle Ages Hainovci, K. Kamenica): 1. ruins of the Tamnica monastery with the church built and frescoed in the 14C on the foundations of an older Byzantme basilica; 2. remains of a church in the old cemetery ...
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Towards the Creation of a “Greater Albania”: Historical Roots & Imperial Ambitions
Introduction Today it is quite obvious that Western-backed process of creation of a Greater Albania is not any propaganda myth but rather visible reality. South Serbia’s province of Kosovo-Metochia is already, de facto, part of “united” Albania from June 1999 and current political situation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is surely going to the direction of the separation of North-West Macedonia mainly populated by Albanians who succeeded with the crucial Western support to promulgate a new language law in Macedonia’s Parliament according to which, the Albanian language is going to be a second state language (i. e., together with ...
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Barbarism in Words and Deeds. Barbarism of U.S. Imperial Wars is Unmatched
“What Russia is sponsoring and doing [in Syria] is not counter-terrorism it is barbarism” Samantha Power, US Representative to the United Nations  The US representative to the United Nations, Ambassador ‘Ranting Sam’ Samantha Power, accused the Russian and Syrian governments of ‘barbarism’, claiming Moscow or Damascus had attacked an unarmed United Nations humanitarian convoy delivering aid to civilians in Aleppo.  No evidence was presented.  Rants and threats do not require facts or proof; they only require vehement emotional ejaculations and compliant mass propaganda organs. ‘Barbarians’, to be clear, evoke images of leaders and groups, which abjure all civilized norms and laws.  They ...
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Bill Clinton
A former U.S. President Bill Clinton's: Past, Present, Future: Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement! Donate to Support Us We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.
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Living Under Libyan “Dictator” Muammar Gaddafi
Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection & Pinterest. Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement! Donate to Support Us We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.
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“Operation Unthinkable” (1945) and US-NATO’s Threats to Wage War on Russia
Five days before the celebration of the 71th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s capitulation to the Soviet and allied troops in the WWII, the new NATO Supreme Commander in Europe Curtis Scaparrotti announced that he came to beat the drums of war again. Ignoring the historic facts and legitimate Russian interests in its around, in his first speech after assuming office he condemned alleged “Russian aggressive behavior that challenges international norms” and called the bloc members to “fight tonight if deterrence fails.” This commonplace declaration fairly correlates with the military and media strategy the Western ruling class adopted decades ago. Even putting aside the ...
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Martti Ahtisaari and Kosovo: Projections, Externalizations, and Projective Identifications
Projections and Projective Identifications Martti Ahtisaari, the Chairman Emeritus of the International Crisis Group (ICG), a globalist think tank sponsored by the US, asserted that all Serbs were “guilty as a nation” for seeking to prevent the secessionist/separatist Greater Albania movement launched by Albanian ultra-nationalist terrorists in 1998. He told the Serbian Kosovo negotiating team that “you are guilty as a nation.” This is an example of the racist concept of “collective guilt” typically applied to a group of people based on shared characteristics to punish that group. It is one of the most primitive and barbaric human conceptions ever devised. ...
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Remembering Muammar Qaddafi And The Great Libyan Jamahiriya
October 20th, 2017, marks the sixth anniversary of the martyrdom of Muammar  Qaddafi, revolutionary Pan-Africanist and champion of the Global South. This day also marks the sixth anniversary of the historic battle of Sirte, where Qaddafi, along with an heroic army, including his son Mutassim Billal Qaddafi, and veteran freedom fighter,  Abu-Bakr Yunis Jabr, fought until their convoy was bombed by French fighter planes. Wounded and demobilized, they were captured by Qatari scavengers and executed by Al-Qaeda operativesThecourageous men of the original Free Officers’ Union, who were guides and leaders of the then 42 year-old Al-Fatah Revolution, demonstrated extraordinary revolutionary ...
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Fighting against the U.S. Corrupted Administration: Chronology of Events in the Case of Ronald Thomas West
Fighting against the U.S. Corrupted Administration: Chronology of Events in the Case of Ronald Thomas WestRepublished by permission by the author.Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection & Pinterest.Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!Donate to Support UsWe would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.
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The Great War in 1914 and the Balkans
Hypocrisy
America Now Preparing for World War III
United States Imperialism Continues War in Afghanistan and the Destabilization of Africa
How Many People have been Killed in US Wars?
Facts of the Korean War: UN Security Council, Instrument of US led Wars, Blatantly Biased Against North Korea
Kosovo: Honoring Nazis and the SS
Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon on Kosovo in March 1999
Slobodan Milosevic: The Killing of an Innocent Man
Did U.S. and Allies Commit War Crime by Bombing Syria on April 14th?
Trump’s Win wasn’t Ideological?
The Shortened List of the Serb Christian Orthodox Shrines of Kosovo-Metochia (13th-20th centuries)
Towards the Creation of a “Greater Albania”: Historical Roots & Imperial Ambitions
Barbarism in Words and Deeds. Barbarism of U.S. Imperial Wars is Unmatched
Bill Clinton
Living Under Libyan “Dictator” Muammar Gaddafi
“Operation Unthinkable” (1945) and US-NATO’s Threats to Wage War on Russia
Martti Ahtisaari and Kosovo: Projections, Externalizations, and Projective Identifications
Remembering Muammar Qaddafi And The Great Libyan Jamahiriya
Fighting against the U.S. Corrupted Administration: Chronology of Events in the Case of Ronald Thomas West
Policraticus

Written by Policraticus

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